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How to Train Your Golf Dog
Nine lessons for playing the game with your four-legged friend
No matter how well you train your golf dog, they’ll still love messing up a bunker. That’s just one of the many observations I’ve made from a lifetime of playing golf with man’s best friend. Regardless of how much raking clean up I have to do, the extra effort is well worth it. Playing golf with a dog is one of the great joys of my life.
Some of my happiest memories on the golf course have been with dogs. I grew up playing with my dog on a small-town nine-hole course and now enjoy the practice at my friendly neighborhood club. It’s a wonderful way to experience the game. I’ve enjoyed hundreds of rounds with my dog and often get asked what tips I can share to help others do the same.
Training a golf dog takes time, but if you are willing to put in the work the rewards are endless. It’s hard for me to describe just how much I love walking a golf course with my pal Leon. We’ve done it so many times that it has become second nature to us both. It didn’t start that way though!
Leon is now 10 years old and it took a lot of long walks together to get to the level of comfort we now enjoy on the course. I’ve kept a few good notes along the way and I believe these tips can help anyone who wants to start enjoying the practice.
Get your pup acquainted with the course
I always encourage folks who are interested in playing with their dog to start the training process by offering some tutorial walks without the clubs. Take your aspiring golf dog out to the course, have them on the leash, and go walk the routing together. Let your pup see what the place is like, enjoy the new smells, and mark some territory. You want them to be comfortable there and a few orientation sessions can make for a strong foundation. Once you’ve walked the course together a time or two, you might try taking just one club and start hitting a few shots. It’s probably best to do these test walks early in the morning or late in evening when the course is quiet. Let your pro shop staff know what you are doing too. You’ll have to get them comfortable with the arrangement as well.
Start with a leash
When you first begin training your golf dog, it’s best to start them on a leash. A short one is preferable. You want your golf dog to get used to staying near you while you play. By staying close, your pup will also learn the preferred routes around the course. They’ll get used to the cadence of the game too. When you stop, they should stop. When your bag is on the ground, your dog should sit. When you are on the green, your dog should lay down. Keep them on a tight leash to start and these good habits will start to form. Once they have the hang of the basics, you can offer them a bit more freedom.
A water bowl is essential
We all get thirsty when out for a long walk, especially dogs. Make sure your first purchase as a golf dog trainer is a collapsible water bowl for your pup. You can find these online pretty easily and I’d recommend getting one that can clip on to your golf bag. Most courses offer a fair amount of watering stations across the course but you’ll want to make sure you have them mapped out in your head. If your course doesn’t offer watering stations, then be sure to bring an extra water bottle with you when you play. You can always cup your hand or let you pup lick their way through a paper cup but a bowl will make both your experiences better. Most clubs that are dog friendly will keep one at the clubhouse too. That may also be a good gift for your club if you are trying to start a golf dog culture there. The more you normalize the habit for all involved the better!
It’s best to fly solo at first
It’s a lot of fun to have your dog tag along with you and your friends on the course, however, it’s probably best to learn this routine as a single. If you introduce playing partners too soon, there’s a good chance that your dog will get excited and flock to the others in your group. While you want your dog to have fun interactions with friends down the road, you don’t want them to be a big distraction to your playing partners. Once you have gotten a dozen or so rounds under your belt with just your dog at your side, then you can start branching out with new partners. Find a few friends who won’t care if your pup slips up and take some test runs together. You’ll need to train your friends on these interactions too.
Practice makes perfect
Like anything in golf, you’ll need reps to master this way of playing. Walking the course with your dog is the only way to improve his performance. Of course, that will be on you to facilitate. You need to get your dog into a golf routine if you ever want them to truly flourish in that environment. The more you take your dog to the course the more they’ll get used to the experience. That’s how you’ll build a rapport with each other and all other parties involved. If you club is iffy about you bringing the dog, these regular reps will be your best strategy for normalizing the practice. Show your dog and everyone else around that this practice is safe, acceptable, and enjoyable and you’ll be on the way to living your best golf dog life.
Reward good behavior
Every dog loves a treat. Keep a stash in your bag so that you can reward good golf course etiquette. Just like any other elements of training your dog, rewards will help memorialize good behavior. While the treats are always helpful, don’t forget about how you talk to your four legged friend. Be sure to offer confirming compliments to them as they learn their way around the course. You want your golf dog to be confident in this environment. The more they feel like they belong there the better their comportment will be in the long run. Give your pup a big belly rub from time to time too. Make them love being on the course with you and the rest of the process will fall into place.
Mind the crowds
Golf clubs and courses can get pretty busy. You need to make sure that your dog is well behaved both on the fairways and back at the clubhouse. If your club has a strong dog culture, there will likely already be some rules( written or unwritten) in place. If not, you’ll need to help form those by championing good behavior. Your mission should be to set the standard for golf dog etiquette at your club. What happens on the course is incredibly important, but it will be what happens around the clubhouse and near others that ultimately determines if you’ll get to keep coming back around with your pup.
Have fun with your friend
Golf is a pastime and it’s meant for having fun. Your goal for every trip to the course with your dog should be to make sure both of you are having a good time. Keep things light with your pup. Understand that a later afternoon round with a dog probably won’t be your record score. In fact, just leave the scorecard out of it and you’ll both have more fun. Many of my best golf outings are just me and my dog walking with a half set of clubs and going for a short loop. It’s up to you to create the routine and the more fun and relaxed feelings you can weave into the experience the better it will be for both of you.
A little freedom goes a long way
Once your golf dog has established a high level of comfort on the course it’s time to let them off the leash. Most of us go to the course in search of freedom from work, family duties, and other stresses in our lives. Let your dog enjoy that same feeling. Being in the house or on a leash all the time is not what dogs were born to do. Just like us, they were meant to roam. It won’t happen overnight, but if you put in the time to properly train your golf dog you’ll eventually get to a place where you both can go out and enjoy the freedom that comes from a long untethered walk on the golf course. Let your friend off the leash and go have a walkabout. Both your souls will benefit from the experience.
When you show up to the golf course with your dog, you might get some funny looks. Don’t worry though. It’s just a blend of curiosity and envy. When folks see you tee off with a four-legged golf companion, they are going to wonder why they aren’t doing the same with their pup. As a seasoned K9 golfer, I can assure you the experience is well worth a few weird looks at first. However, it’s up to you to put in the work required to get there. The keys to becoming is a good golf dog owner is patience and practice. I’m hopeful these tips can help you get there.
While we are on the subject of golf dogs, I recently had the chance to talk about mine on Golf Channel. It was part of a fun discussion with Damon Hack and Eamon Lynch on Golf Today about my new book Swing, Walk, Repeat. In the book, I of course write about how Leon and I spend many late afternoons on the golf course together. I like to think of Swing, Walk, Repeat as a guide for igniting your golfing soul…playing with your pup is a great way to get started.
Check out our discussion below and get your copy of Swing, Walk, Repeat here.
Finally, my friends at the Golfer’s Journal recently published a story of mine about one of my favorite hidden gem golf destinations. The story is about World Woods, a long-time under the radar golf hang in Central Florida, and the man who has kept it going despite 30 years of uphill battles. Earlier this year, the Mike Keiser backed Cabot company bought World Woods and will soon begin the work of re-imagining it as an upscale resort called Cabot Citrus Farms. My story chronicles that journey and shares the struggles of the man who has been along for the whole ride. The story is titled Back to the Future and you can read it here. Come for the words and stay for the stirring images by my good friend Carolyn Allen.
Happy reading and good luck training your golf dog. Thanks as always for stopping by.
Until next time,